Friday, October 12, 2012

'The Vampire Diaries' 4.01 Review

For four years now The Vampire Diaries was the standard for teenage demographic-skewing supernatural entertainment on television. People compared the series to True Blood along the way and though in some ways this was an apt comparison—hey they both have vampires in them—it felt like something unique. It suffered from the presumption of many that it would be Twilight for television—the marketing did nothing to assuage those fears as the focus was on the sad pretty girl who would find herself torn between the love of two pin-up worthy vampire brothers. But something happened somewhere in the first ten episodes of season one—The Vampire Diaries became one of the most engaging dramatic thrill-rides you could find anywhere in genre television. It was easy to defend to the haters who thought that it was simply a televised rip-off of the Twilight novels because it was filled with rich characters, surprising storyline shifts, and a growing mythology that wove those characters into the history of the town of Mystic Falls, Virginia.

Somewhere in the last season however, the wheels began to fall off of the storytelling, many of the characters became one-note versions of their former selves, and hardly anything that would be built up story-wise had a single real consequence attached to it. There are a number of factors that could be blamed for this decline, but the issue here is here we are in season four with a brand new chance to redeem the less than stellar season three…did they do it?

I wish I could say otherwise, I really do but the fact remains that The Vampire Diaries has a lot of work to do before it can even come close to its own former glory. Especially in a world in which many TVD fans are enthralled by a series like Teen Wolf which came off of a superlative second season firing on all cylinders creatively. You might think that The Vampire Diaries doesn’t need to worry about what Teen Wolf does, but in a world where a large percentage of fans watch both it’s easy to see that one of these shows is more creatively inspired than the other. Let’s just say they don’t corner the market anymore and that means that complacency is no longer an option.

Take the big threat of this episode, Pastor Young, as one example of the way TVD has fallen into creative doldrums. This is a man who should have felt like a legitimate force to be reckoned with—someone who mercilessly slaughters the supernatural and since most of our characters are now of that ilk then it should mean everyone is in real danger. However, this is one of those shows that’s pulled the deaths don’t really stick card one too many times and now even Matt the human seems just as immortal as the vampires that surround him. Every single time the commando troop of hunters appeared on screen with Pastor Young leading the way it felt like a retread of ideas we’ve seen done better elsewhere from the Fellowship of the Sun led by Steve Newlin on True Blood to the group of hunters over on Teen Wolf.

It’s hard not to make that last comparison in particular when the first act of this new group was to go across Mystic Falls and remove the authority figures that had been otherwise compromised by their affiliation with vampires or werewolves over the past few seasons. A move that played out almost exactly like when the Argents and their men removed the principal of Beacon Hills High on Teen Wolf in order to replace him with Gerard Argent, a man who has no pity when it comes to the creatures that go bump in the night no matter how much they look like they belong on the cover of a teen magazine. That’s how you pull off a scary anti-supe character as we witnessed him drown a teenage boy and beat the holy hell out of another with no remorse because he doesn’t associate himself with their kind no matter what they look like on the outside. Pastor Young and his crew just felt wholly unoriginal and their exit which was likely meant to be a badass symbol of the doom yet to come for our characters played out instead like another storyline that literally flamed out before it could even go anywhere—something with little to no real lasting consequences.

Over on the love triangle side of things and yes it’s still there. It’s always going to be there we have Elena’s choice supposedly being handled from a vastly different perspective because now she’s just like them—a vampire. Even though it felt like perhaps Damon was better-written than he had been toward the end of last season it’s clear more than ever that since now Elena will live forever she can basically time-share the Salvatore boys; spend time with each of them for however long she feels like since there remains more passion with Damon and more true heartfelt connection with Stefan. It’s going to wind up making her a modern version of Katherine but the show will justify this unfairness to the boys by making us think when Elena does it by going for one and then the other that it’s somehow better.

Elena’s transition into becoming a vampire was the focus of a large portion of the episode and it really dragged things down. Only someone who’s already quite a special snowflake as a human would angst and moan about being made vampire. Let’s face it, by becoming a vampire Elena is going to lose a great deal of what made her so valuable to the bad guys such as Klaus who can no longer use her blood since she isn’t mortal anymore. The Vampire Diaries pegged a lot of their stories on Elena being in trouble because of her status as the mortal Petrova doppleganger and now they can’t do that anymore so they’re stuck with boring attempts at trying to create villains out of hunters once more. Even though it’s quite certain none of your faves are going to meet the true death.

Unless your favorite character happens to be Klaus Mikelson. Then you may find that the show is quite willing to let the ax fall and mean it. If you came away from his scene with Rebekkah with anything less than a feeling of, ‘oh God they may have figured out how to make everyone hate him again so they can kill him during sweeps week’ then you need to watch it again. The character of Klaus has always been firmly rooted with his family—the Originals. By having that abrasive bitch-fit toward Beks, and by extension his connection with the surviving members of the Mikelson family, the show is working to separate one of the more sympathetic things about the character that frankly should already be gone. Do not get my words twisted I adore Klaus and Joseph Morgan’s performance, but for the sake of the story it would have been better to have him dealt with when more people still thought he was a great character and a true threat as well. 

I really have a bad feeling about the assassination to that character that could happen this year now that the show is having him to be very eager to give his family a middle finger. Don’t be surprised if Elijah hangs with the ‘good guys’ even more this season and finds himself pitted against his brother in some sort of final showdown. It’s the show’s way of conceding to the fans who’ve grown attached to the Originals a chance for them to still have a presence as long as they can get rid of Klaus. Then again, perhaps Klaus has entered the never really going to die club as well that the others are full-fledged members of so perhaps there’s nothing really to worry about. All I know is that scene with Rebekkah sent off alarms in my mind—the kind that go off when the writers of a show are deliberately getting ready to make a death more acceptable for a fan-favorite character than it might have been before. They’ve already tried to use Klaus’ demise as a condition of another fan favorite, Katherine, reappearing in order to get the fans behind such a controversial exit.

Bonnie had a important plot presence in the episode as it was she who helped Klaus resume his normal body, but at a price. Always at a price for Bonnie and it’s truly getting to the point where TVD should realize how badly they’re treating this character. It didn’t take more than six minutes into the episode for Bonnie to be used by other characters for her magic—damn the consequences. What’s worse is that the writing allows for Bonnie to consistently be a doormat for the others by always agreeing to do what they demand of her magically all under the guise of her want to help Elena. Someone says to Bonnie that ‘Elena is not your problem to solve’ and it’s a damn shame that the writing doesn’t reflect that as Bonnie could easily wind up dead someday for being the one everyone turns to in order to fix things. They claim that it’s going to be a great season for Bonnie that she’s going to become a little stronger, a little darker, and a little more independent. But they’ve said that about her before so I have a really hard time believing it based on her appearance in last night’s episode.

It’s my hope that The Vampire Diaries can find a way to turn it around as the season progresses especially now that we’re past Elena’s transition (which really brought out some of the worst qualities in this current version of the character). The show could be thrilling again if it just learns how to up the stakes—pun intended as long as they mean something more than the vampiric equivalent of an ouchie. If you start an arc then have it really mean something for the characters in a way that when they come out on the other side of it, things are truly changed forever not just until someone comes back from the dead for the third time. They have twenty-some episodes left to do it so let’s hope that they really find a way to make things feel dangerous again because until they do well, let’s just say the scene between Stefan and Elena last night could have easily come from that other vampire franchise except they weren’t sparkling. This time. 

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